Archives For Career Advice

I get a weekly email from Harvey Mackay. I thought I would share this one that I found in my inbox (it’s from January):

Napoleon Hill, one of my favorite authors, devoted twenty years of his life to study what made people successful. His mentor, steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, helped Hill by giving him introductions to some of the most successful people in business, including Henry Ford, Theodore Roosevelt, Charles Schwab, George Eastman, John D. Rockefeller, Thomas Edison, Clarence Darrow and many others.

What Hill discovered is that all these individuals realized the importance of surrounding themselves with people smarter than themselves.

I couldn’t agree more. All of us together are a lot smarter than any one of us. Which leads to some of the best career advice I can give you: Networking is a skill you must develop.

If I had to name the single characteristic shared by all the truly successful people I’ve met over a lifetime, I’d say it is the ability to create and nurture a network of contacts. A network replaces the weakness of the individual with the strength of your network. You don’t have to know everything as long as you know the people who do.

A network can enrich your life. It can help you help others. A network improves your job security. If you build a network, you will have a bridge to wherever you want to go. So if you are ever up the proverbial creek, if you have a network, you always have a paddle.

Just remember, the more you exercise your networking muscles, the stronger they get and the easier networking becomes.

What other career advice can you benefit from?

You can’t forget the most important five-letter word in business – TRUST. How about integrity, reputation and treating everyone with respect? I might add that you have to continue your education, because you should be in school all your life. I’ve written extensively about all these topics, and will continue to hammer them home because they are the difference between a job and a successful career.

And because I follow my own advice and continually study the brilliant thoughts of others, I thought I’d share words of wisdom from some of the world’s most successful people:

Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc.: “When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: ‘If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.’ It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘no’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

Michael Dell, founder of Dell Inc.: “Try never to be the smartest person in the room. And if you are, I suggest you invite smarter people, or find a different room.”

J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter novels: “Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged.”

Carlos Slim Helu, telecommunications magnate who is considered the world’s richest person: “I don’t want to live thinking about how I’ll be remembered.”

Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway: “I don’t look to jump over 7-foot bars: I look around for 1-foot bars that I can step over.”

Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook: “If we want to have the biggest impact, the best way to do this is to make sure we always focus on solving the most important problems.”

Cathie Black, president of Hearst Magazines: “Most people see taking risks as opening themselves up to unnecessary,

Richard Branson, founder and chairman of Virgin Group: “My mother always taught me never to look back in regret but to move on to the next thing. The amount of time people waste dwelling on failures rather than putting that energy into another project, always amazes me. … A setback is never a bad experience, just a learning curve.”

Mackay’s Moral: They say a word to the wise is sufficient, but I say a word from the wise is a gift!

Harvey Mackay is one of my favorite authors. You can check out Harvey Mackay’s Amazon page*. My favorite book of his is Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty: The Only Networking Book You’ll Ever Need*.

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Saw this article on MSN this morning: 6 Benefits of a Bottom-Rung Job

According the author, Paul Facella, there are six benefits to starting in a low-level job:

1. Teaches you the ropes. In my opinion, there’s nothing worse than a manager who doesn’t know what things are like down in the trenches. I realize that not all managers can do every job, but there’s nothing wrong with experiencing what employees go through on the front lines. Those who start at the bottom and work their way up, have that advantage.

2. Hones your work style.

3. Refines relationship skills. This is very important. There’s nothing like trying to balance friendship with trying to move up the ladder. Some people will be offended by your desire to move up the ladder. That said, learning how to deal with people from all positions within the company will help you go far.

4. Creates opportunities.

5. Forms networks. Depending on your position and company, you will have the opportunity to meet lots of people and have lots of networking opportunities.

6. Reinforces humility. Yes, starting at the bottom can be very humbling. I know this is tiny in comparison to losing a good job and having to start over, but when I first moved to Texas, I took a second job at IHOP as a dishwasher/bus boy. I had a pretty good position of manager trainee with the grocery chain I worked for and found it quite humbling to go work as a bus boy at a restaurant and having to take orders from other people.

One thing the author points out, which is very important, is that it matters a lot who you work for:

“…before you take just any “starter job,” you should find out if this is a goal- and growth-oriented job, as opposed to a dead-end job. In your interview, it is perfectly fine to ask such questions as: What percentage of your mid- to senior-level managers are promoted from within? What programs and policies are set up for helping high-achieving employees develop new skills? Is mobility at this company limited, or could one apply for jobs elsewhere in the company for which one is qualified?”

In other words, it’s not enough to get a low-level job, work hard, and expect to move up automatically. You have to make sure the company you work for will be interested in promoting you.

NOTE: Paul Fracella wrote the book, Everything I Know About Business I Learned at McDonald’s*

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Check out this comment that was left on the post “Rude Customers” from last year (I did not edit the comment):

I agree with Sarah about her feelings for people after cashiering for over 5 years. At this point, I could care less about losing my job after dealing with so many rude customers. It is a lose, lose situation for cashiers; you don’t say anything to avoid a confrontation, your rude. You say one word; your rude. You look at customers in what they feel is a “wrong way”; your rude. And Billy, I too, have developed a very low opinion of the general public. Most customers should stay home and take their meds first before coming out in public.

I think this person is just looking for an excuse to justify not doing a good job. If you can push all the blame to the customer, then you can justify your I-don’t-give-a-crap attitude.

I’m sorry but this is just wrong.

Sure, there are rude customers out there. But, MOST people are not rude. Most people just want good service and to be taken care of.

I challenge this person to take a different approach. Try these following actions that I found on page 83 of Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Gold Book of YES! Attitude* for 30 days and see what happens:

Be nice.

Be kind.


Make friends.

Say nice things.

Praise others.

Take responsibility.

Be proud of your work.

Be proud of your accomplishments.

Don’t worry, be happy.

Finally, I couldn’t help but notice that this person has been cashiering for 5 years. FIVE YEARS! That’s a long time. Cashiering is usually an entry-level job…not a career. I would encourage this person to either set their sights on a better position within the company or take action to find a career elsewhere. Once a plan is in place and you don’t feel like you’re stuck in a dead-end job, it’s a lot easier to have a positive attitude!

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My post, Should This Guy Go Back to School?, received quite a few comments. I would like to highlight one of the comments by giving it its own post. The comment came from a guy named Brian Hollar, who authors the blog, Thinking on the Margin. Here’s his comment:

I am the same age as this guy and have gone through a somewhat similar process — although maybe in reverse? I studied mechanical engineering as an undergrad and worked as an engineer for over a decade. During that time, I got an MBA in a part-time program and fell in love with economics. I was debt-free, had no mortgage to pay, and no family to feed and always wanted to teach college. So I made the plunge and am currently working on my PhD in Economics full-time and qualified for a fellowship for my school’s dual PhD/JD (law degree) program. I just finished my third year of my PhD and first year of law school.

Here are a few words of advice from my own journey:

1) If you don’t have any debt and don’t enjoy what you do, change. There’s no reason you have to stay where you are. Be wise with your move and make sure you have your next landing pad before making the jump, but don’t feel trapped into staying where you are. Remember, there are a ton of ways to make a live a comfortable life in the US and many of them do not require a new degree.

2) Read The Adventures of Johnny Bunko* by Daniel Pink. It has some of the best career advice I’ve ever read and is written in the form of a comic book. You can easily read it in an hour.

3) Have a clear definition of your goal. Studying “business or engineering” is a very broad goal. Specify. Have a clear idea in mind. If you already have your master’s in English, why not consider an MBA? It will probably take less time than a second bachelor’s degree and require much less make-up work than transitioning from English into engineering. (Unless you have a very strong mathematical background.) Having a clear goal is particularly important for helping make sure you complete whatever program you start. Going back to school after having been out for a while can be a bit of a shock. (Trust me, I know!)

4) Pay attention to the accreditation of the school. For good or for ill, this matters to the marketplace. If you study engineering, make sure it is at an ABET accredited school. If you study business, make sure it is at an AACSB accredited school. Particularly for business schools, there are a lot of schools out there that offer the promise of an additional degree – particularly business ones. I have had several friends go to them and they usually end up stuck with a lot of debt and little return on the time and money they invested into their extra education.

5) If you go for an MBA, consider a part-time program – particularly if your employer will help pay. I got my MBA this way and it gave me the flexibility to stay debt-free and continue on to my PhD afterwards.

6) Do not raid your 401k! In economics, there’s an idea called “diminishing marginal utility of wealth” which says that every dollar you make is worth slightly less to you than the dollar before it. To illustrate, consider how much an extra $10,000 per year would change the life of someone who only made $10,000 per year. It would provide him with much greater opportunities, right? If someone made $100,000 per year, an extra $10,000 per year would be nice, but not life changing. If someone made $1,000,000 per year, an extra $10,000 would barely even show up on his radar. The intuition is that your first $10,000 you make in a given year is worth more than the next $10,000 you make that year, which in turn is worth more than the next $10,000.

What does this have to do with a 401k and student loans? The idea behind saving today for retirement is that you skim off some of the less valuable dollars you make today and save it for the future when you have a lower income (retirement) and get more value out of those dollars. Taking out a student loan works the same way, but in reverse. You are skimming off the top portion of your future income (the less valuable dollars) and using it now when your income is low and those dollars are more valuable. I hope this makes sense.

Bottom line: Borrowing within reason for education is a good idea — IF you expect it will help significantly boost your salary after you are done. Raiding your 401k to fund your education is not. The earlier you start investing for retirement the more time it has to grow. Raiding the account for school is counterproductive and will negatively impact your financial future more than student debt will. (If the debt is kept within reason.)

7) Where you go to school matters. Particularly if you get an MBA. Make sure either the engineering or business degree is accredited (see #4). Be careful of schools that basically function as degree mills. The harder it is to get into, the more valued employers will probably consider the degree. (For example, if you go for an MBA, avoid schools that don’t require the GMAT.)

Research the expected salaries of your potential options. If you’re changing for the sake of enjoyment, I’d encourage you to do so, but avoid debt as much as possible. If you’re changing to make a higher salary and get better opportunities, make sure you weigh the expected long-term payoffs of your various alternatives.

9) Try to keep debt low. A lot of my friends in law school are up to their necks in debt and only a minority of them will come out making six-figure salaries. A lot will probably come out with close to six-figure debt. That is not a good situation to be in.

10) Don’t be too debt averse. I’ve probably made the mistake of being a little to debt averse in my graduate education. I worked part-time during the first year of my PhD program (in addition to my fellowship), competing with many people who had been studying economics all their life whereas I was struggling with math I hadn’t seen in over a decade. I would have greatly benefitted from some extra time for both studying and de-stressing that first year. I’ve had to play catch-up ever since. My wallet is thankful, but it made for a rocky return to the life of a full-time student.

11) Like JLP wrote, don’t get too fixated on the “magic” of a new degree. I am getting a PhD because it’s a barrier to entry into becoming a college professor. While I’ve been enjoying what I’ve been learning, the most important economic concepts that I enjoy the most are what you could learn from reading a basic microeconomics textbook such as Greg Mankiw’s “Principles of Economics”.

12) If you do focus on getting an undergraduate degree, keep in mind that the more quantitative it is, the more valued it is in the marketplace. This translates into how much you should consider borrowing. If it’s a highly quantitative discipline, higher levels of school loans are more advisable.

13) If you’re planning on getting a second bachelor’s (or master’s) degree and have ruled out the MBA, have you considered a degree in economics? Econ grads have very good long-term earning potential (beating out many engineering disciplines in the long-run), it can be a fun subject, and can help teach some valuable skills for financial management on a personal level. It also makes the news a lot more interesting to read. Finance would be another good choice for similar reasons. Other business majors may not be worth it financially to pursue at an undergraduate level. (I doubt an undergraduate business management or marketing degree will put you in much better shape than your master’s degree in English.)

14) Don’t underestimate what you already know or the skills you already have. Getting a master’s in English is no easy task. I would infer from that you have a love of reading and writing. These are both very valuable skills. Leverage them in job searches. With those credentials, you are qualified to teach at a community college (something that would be conducive to earning an income while going back to school), be a writer for a wide variety of situations, and probably have most of the education you’d need for marketing and/or journalistic oriented careers.

15) Don’t ignore the financials involved in your decision-making, but don’t let the bottom line be the bottom-line. Life is about more than just maximizing the number in your bank account. There’s merit and enjoyment in learning. If you can do so in a financially responsible way and it is something you truly enjoy, there’s nothing wrong with pursuing another degree even if it ultimately doesn’t make you better off financially. Just try to minimize the long-term financial effect it will likely have on you.

These are just a few quick thoughts from someone who has gone back to school.

Also, here are a few blog posts I’ve written on related topics:


THE DANGER’S OF DEBT: Debt is Slavery

CHOOSING A COLLEGE MAJOR: What College Majors Pay Most



WHY STUDY ENGINEERING: Why Study Engineering

WHY MAJOR IN ECONOMICS: Why Major in Economics



Thanks to Brian for his thoughtful post. I hope you found it helpful.

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Have you ever wondered why good customer service is hard to find? I have! Everytime I go into a store, the first thing I notice is how crappy customer service has become. I would say that nine times out of ten, my customer service experience is subpar.

Why? Why are so many employees just showing up to put in their hours so that they can collect their checks? Why aren’t more employees excited about their jobs? I can’t figure it out. Is it a symptom of our society or is it something else?

The other day my kids and I visited our local Dillard’s so that I could pick up some shirts for our trip. While walking around in the store, I noticed two Dillard’s employees standing in the main aisle talking. We walked by and neither of the women greeted us or even smiled at us. The only communication we had with the women was when one of them told my son to get his foot off a rolling cart. True, my son had no business putting his foot on the cart and had I noticed, I would have told him so. But, that’s not the point. The point was that neither of these employees bothered to say hello to the person who’s partly responsible for their income!

It would be one thing if this were an isolated incident but, it’s not. EVERYWHERE I go, employees act like they hate their jobs as evidenced by:

1. how slowly they walk around (of course some of them probably can’t walk faster due their incredibly baggy pants!)

2. how little they talk to customers or even look them in the eye

3. how MUCH they talk to their fellow employees while ignoring the customer

4. how little they smile

I think this is all due to the fact that so many people have so little self-esteem. They don’t value themselves and their potential so they think they are stuck in the rut of minimum wage retail forever.

I think an attitude adjustment is in order.

In his awesome book, Change Your Thinking Change Your Life*, Brian Tracy makes the statement that we should all consider ourselves the president of our own personal services corporation. I think this is an awesome idea! Why? Because it means taking ownership in our jobs. Employees who consider themselves owners are going to act differently than employees who simply consider themselves helpless employees.

Whether they want to believe it or not, an employee’s fate lies in their own hands. It’s true! Once they figure this out, they should feel liberated! Why? Because they can begin to take the necessary steps to improve themselves. They can begin to set goals and plan for the future. They can read books on motivation, success, and anything else they want to learn about. Then, they can choose to either work their way up the ladder with their current employer or make the decision to go elsewhere.

It’s been a long time since I was employed in the retail environment but I would think that if I were a manager in a retail store, I would do all I could to help my employees get ahead. I would have training session after training session on customer service and decision-making. I would make them read lots of books like Think & Grow Rich*, Goals!*, Flight Plan*, and Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty*. I would make sure that my employees knew that they were all presidents of their very own corporations.

Heck, maybe I should go back into retail!

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